Speech to Peace Corps Workers (December 12, 1964)

Speech to Peace Corps Workers (December 12, 1964)

First, I want to let you know I am very thankful for the invitation to speak here this afternoon. Number one, before a group such as this, and number two, I always feel more at home in Harlem than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The topic we are going to discuss in a very informal way is Africa and the African Revolution and its effect on the Afro-American.

I take time to mention that because I am one who believes that what’s happening on the African continent has a direct bearing on what happens to you and me in this country: The degree to which they get independence, strength, and recognition on that continent is inseparable from the degree to which we get independence, strength, and recognition on this continent, and I hope before the day is over to be able to clarify that.

First, I would like to point out that since it is my understanding that most of you are training to be leaders in the community, the country, and the world, some advice that I would give is that whenever you occupy a position of responsibility never accept images that have been created for you by someone else. It is always better to form the habit of learning how to see things for yourself, listen to things for yourself, and think for yourself; then you are in a better position to judge for yourself.

We are living in a time when image-making has become a science. Someone can create a certain image and then use that image to twist your mind and lead you right up a blind path. An example: A few weeks ago, I was on a plane traveling from Algiers to Geneva. There were two white Americans sitting beside me, one a male, the other a female. I had met the male in the airport and we had struck up a conversation. He was an interpreter for the United Nations and was based in Geneva. The lady was with the American Embassy in Algeria. So we conversed for about forty minutes between Algiers and Geneva, a nice human conversation. I don’t think they were trying to be white and they weren’t trying to prove they weren’t white. They weren’t particularly trying to prove anything. It was just a conversation between three human beings. I certainly wasn’t trying to make them think 1 wasn’t black; race just didn’t come into the conversation.

So, after we had this quiet, objective, friendly, and very informative conversation for about forty minutes, the lady looked at my briefcase and said, “I want to ask you a personal question. What kind of last name could you have that begins with an ‘X’?” This was bugging her. I said, “That’s it, ‘X,’’’ like that. So she said, “Well, what’s your first name?” 1 said, “Malcolm.” She waited about ten minutes and said, “You’re not Malcolm X?” and I said, “Yes.” She said, “But you’re not what 1 was looking for.” I told her right then and there about the danger of believing what she hears someone else say or believing what she reads that someone else has written and not keeping herself in a position to weigh things for herself.

So I just take time to mention that because it is very dangerous for you and me to form the habit of believing completely everything about anyone or any situation when we only have the press as our source of information. It is always better, if you don’t want to be completely in the dark, to read about it. But don’t come to a conclusion until you have an opportunity to do some personal, firsthand investigation for yourself.

The American press, in fact the FBI, can use the American press to create almost any kind of image they want of anyone on the local scene. And then you have other police agencies of an international stature that are able to use the world press in the same manner. If the press is able to project someone in the image of an extremist, no matter what that person says or does from then on, it is considered by the public as an act of extremism. No matter how good, constructive, or positive it is, because it’s done by this person who has been projected as an extremist, the people who have been misled by the press have a mental block and the press knows that. The person can run and save someone from drowning in the middle of the Hudson, but still the act is looked upon with suspicion because the press has been used to create suspicion toward that person.

I point these things out—especially for you and me, those of us who are trying to come from behind. If we aren’t aware, we’ll find that all these modem methods of trickery will be used and we will be maneuvered into thinking that we are getting freedom or thinking that we are making progress when actually we will be going backward.

And one of the things that you and I as an oppressed people should be on guard against, as I said, is to be very careful about letting anyone paint our images for us. The world press as well as the American press can make the victim of the crime look like the criminal and can make the criminal look like the victim. You don’t think that is possible for someone to do this to your mind, but all you have to do is take a look at what happened in the Congo. The world press projected the scene in the Congo as one wherein the people who were the victims of the crime were made to appear as if they were the actual criminals and the ones who were the actual criminals were made to appear as if they were the actual victims. The press did this, and by the press doing this, it made it almost impossible for the public to analyze the Congo situation with clarity and keep it in its proper perspective.

An example: Here we had African villages in the Congo that had no kind of air force whatsoever, they were completely without defense against air attacks; planes were dropping bombs on these African villages. The bombs were destroying women and children. But there was no great outcry here in America against such an inhuman act because the press very skillfully made it look like a humanitarian project by referring to the pilots as “American trained.” And as soon as they put the word American in there, that was supposed to lend it some kind of respectability or legality.

They called them American-trained, anti-Castro Cuban pilots and since Castro is a word that is almost like a curse, the fact that they were anti-Castro pilots made whatever they were doing an act of humanitarianism. But still you can’t overlook the fact that they were dropping bombs on villages in Africa that had no defense whatsoever against bombs. But they called this an act of humanitarianism and the public was made to accept it as an act of humanitarianism.

I have to point this out because it is an example of how the press can maneuver and manipulate your mind to make you think that mass murder is some kind of humanitarian project simply by making the image of the criminal appear to be that of a humanitarian and the image of the victim that of the criminal.

So it is good to keep this in mind because you can take it a step further. One of the principal images in that scene over there was Tshombe, who is a murderer. He murdered the rightful prime minister of the Congo; this cannot be denied. The rightful minister of the Congo was Patrice Lumumba. Now, the one who is responsible for having murdered him in cold blood—and the world knows it—was put over the Congo as its premier by the United States Government and this gave him some kind of image of respectability because America sanctioned him. Not only did America sanction him, she supplied him with sufficient funds wherein he could then go to South Africa and import hired killers, mercenaries they call them, but a mercenary is a hired killer.

So this man, Tshombe, who was a murder hired by the United States and placed in a position of authority over the Congo, showed his nature by what he did with American money—he hired some more killers. But because he was appointed by America Tshombe wasn’t looked upon as a murderer or a killer, and the American press gave the mercenaries an image of respectability. An image of respectability. Now these mercenaries, under Tshombe’s sanction and support, were indiscriminately shooting African women and children as well as African men.
 No one got upset over the loss of thousands of Congolese lives; they only got upset when the lives of a few whites were at stake. Because when the lives of the whites were at stake, the press immediately played on your sentiment by referring to these whites as innocent hostages, as nuns and priests and missionaries, and it gave them an image that you would sympathize with.

I must point this out because it shows you how tricky the press can be. The press can make you not have any sympathy whatsoever for the death of thousands of people who look just like yourself, but at the same time, they make tears roll down your face over the loss of a few lives that don’t look anything like yourself. They manipulate your feelings.

So my advice to any of you who at any time think that you’ll ever be placed in a position of responsibility—you owe it to others as well as to yourself to be very careful about letting others make up your mind for you. You have to learn how to see for yourself, hear for yourself, think for yourself, and then judge for yourself.

Secondly, I would like to say this: It concerns my own personal self, whose image they have projected in their own light. I am against any form of racism. We are all against racism. The only difference between you and me is that you want to fight racism and racists non-violently and lovingly and I’ll fight them the way they fight me. Whatever weapon they use, that’s the one I’ll use. I go for talking the kind of language he talks. You can’t communicate with a person unless you use the language he uses. If a man is speaking French, you can talk German all night long, he won’t know what you’re talking about. You have to find out what kind of language he understands and then you put it to him in the language that he understands.

I’m a Muslim, which means my religion is Islam. I believe in Allah. I believe in all of the prophets, whoever represented God on this earth. I believe what Muslims believe: prayer, fasting, charity, and the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Mecca, which I’ve been fortunate to have made four or five times. I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return that treatment. This is the only difference between you and me.

You believe in treating everybody right whether they put a rope around your neck or whether they put you in the grave. Well, my belief isn’t that strong. I believe in the brotherhood of man, but I think that anybody who wants to lynch a Negro is not qualified for that brotherhood and I don’t put forth any effort to get them into that brotherhood. You want to save him and I don’t.

Despite the fact that I believe in the brotherhood of man as a Muslim, and in the religion of Islam, there is one fact also that I can’t overlook: I’m an Afro-American and Afro-Americans have problems that go well beyond religion. We have problems that our religious organization in itself cannot solve and we have problems that no one organization can solve or no one leader can solve. We have a problem that is going to take the combined efforts of every leader and every organization if we are going to get a solution. For that reason, I don’t believe that as a Muslim it is possible for me to bring my religion into any discussion with non-Muslims without causing more division, animosity, and hostility; then we will only be involved in a self-defeating action. So based upon that, there is a group of us that have formed an organization. Besides being Muslims, we have gotten together and formed an organization that has nothing to do with religion at all; it is known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

In this organization we involve ourselves in the complete struggle of the Afro-American in this country, and our purpose in becoming involved with a non-religious group is to give us the latitude to use any means necessary for us to bring an end to the injustices that confront us. I believe in any means necessary. I believe that the injustices that we have suffered and will continue to suffer will never be brought to a halt as long as we put ourselves in a straitjacket when fighting those injustices.

Those of us in the Organization of Afro-American Unity have adopted as our slogan “by any means necessary” and we feel we are justified. Whenever someone is treating you in a criminal, illegal, or immoral way, why, you are well within your rights to use anything at your disposal to bring an end to that unjust, illegal, and immoral condition. If we do it like that, we will find that we will get more respect and will be further down the road toward freedom, toward recognition and respect as human beings. But as long as we dillydally and try to appear that we’re more moral by taking a beating without fighting back, people will continue to refer to us as very moral and well disciplined persons, but at the same time we will be as far back a hundred years from now as we are today. So I believe that fighting those who fight us is the best course of action in any situation.

Again, if the Government doesn’t want Negroes fighting anyone who is fighting us, then the Government should do its job; the Government shouldn’t put the weight on us. If the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi is carrying on criminal activities to the point of murdering black people, then I think if black people are men, human beings, the same as anybody else, you and I should have the right to do the same thing in defense of our lives and our property that all other human beings on this earth do in defense of their lives and in defense of their property, and that is to talk the language that the Klan understands.

So I must emphasize, we are dealing with a powerful enemy, and again, I am not anti-American or un-American. I think there are plenty of good people in America, but there are also plenty of bad people in America and the bad ones are the ones who seem to have all the power and be in these positions to block things that you and I need. Because this is the situation, you and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring an end to that situation, and it doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.

So what impact or effect does the African Revolution have upon you and me? Number one, prior to 1959, many of us didn’t want to be identified with Africa in any way, not even indirectly or remotely. The best way to curse one of us out was to call us an African; we’d get insulted. But if you’ve noticed, since 1959 and in more recent years, that’s changed. It’s changing among us subconsciously faster than we even realize.

The reason for this change is that prior to 1959 the African image was not created by Africans. The image of Africa was created by European powers. These Europeans joined with America and created a very negative image of Africa and projected this negative image abroad. They projected Africa as a jungle, a place filled with animals, savages, and cannibals. The image of Africa and the Africans was made so hateful that 22 million of us in America of African ancestry actually shunned Africa because its image was a hateful, negative image. We didn’t realize that as soon as we were made to hate Africa and Africans, we also hated ourselves. You can’t hate the root and not hate the fruit. You can’t hate Africa, the land where you and I originated, without ending up hating you and me.

And the man knew that. We began to hate African features. We hated the African nose and the African lips and the African skin and the African hair. We hated the hair so much we even put lye on it to change its looks. We began hating ourselves. And you know, they accuse us of teaching hate.
What is the most inhuman or immoral: a man that teaches you to hate your enemies or a man that skillfully maneuvers you into hating yourself? Well, I think teaching a man to hate himself is much more criminal than teaching him to hate someone else. Look at you—who taught you to hate yourself? If you say we’re hate teachers, you tell me who taught you to hate so skillfully, so completely, until we have been maneuvered today so that we don’t even want to be what we actually are. We want to be somebody else, we want to be someone else, we want to be something else. Many of us want to be somewhere else.

Then after 1959, as Africans began to get independence, they began to change the image of the African. They got into a position to project their own image abroad. The image began to swing from negative to positive and to the same degree that the African image began to change from negative to positive, the Afro-American’s image also began to change from negative to positive. His behavior and objectives began to change from negative to positive to the same degree that the behavior and the objectives of the African changed from negative to positive. They had a direct bearing upon the attitude that we here in America began to develop toward each other and also toward the man, and I don’t have to say what man.

There were elements in the State Department that began to worry about this change in image. As Africa became militant and uncompromising, you and I became militant and uncompromising, and even the most bourgeois Uncle Tom Afro-American was happy when he heard about the Mau Maus. Yeah, he was happy when he heard it. He wouldn’t say so openly because it wasn’t a status symbol to identify with it in some quarters. In other quarters, it was. But all of this uncompromising and militant action on the part of the Africans created a tendency among our people in this country to be the same way, but many of us didn’t realize it. It was an unconscious effect, but it had its effect.

That racist element in the State Department became worried about this. And you are out of your mind if you don’t think that there’s a racist element in the State Department. I’m not saying that everybody in the State Department is a racist, but I’m saying they sure got some in there and they got them in powerful positions. And this is the element that became worried about the changing Negro mood and the changing Negro behavior. Especially if that mood and behavior became one of violence, and by violence they only mean when a black man protects himself against the attack of the white man.

When it comes time for a black man to explode, they call it violence, but white people can be exploding against black people all day long and it’s never called violence. 1 have even had some of you come to me and ask if I’m for violence. I’m the victim of violence and you’re the victim of violence. In fact, you’ve been so victimized by it, you can’t recognize it for what it is today.

The fear was that the changing image of the African would have a tendency to change your and my image much too much, and they knew you and I tended to identify with Africa where we didn’t formerly do so. Their fear was that sympathy and that identity would eventually develop into sort of an allegiance for African hopes and aspirations above and beyond America’s hopes and aspirations. So they had to do something to create a division between the Afro-American and the African so that you and I and they could not get together and coordinate our efforts and make faster progress than we had been making up to that time.

They don’t mind you struggling for freedom as long as you struggle according to their rules. As long as you let them tell you how to struggle, they go for your struggle. But as soon as you come to one of them who is supposed to be for your freedom and tell him you’re for freedom by any means necessary, he gets away from you. He’s for his freedom by any means necessary, but he’ll never go along with you to get your freedom by any means necessary.

United States history is that of a country that does whatever it wants to by any means necessary, to look out for its interest by any means necessary, but when it comes to your and my interest, then all of the means become limited. And we can’t go along with that. We say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we are going to be non-violent, then let America become non-violent. Let her pull her troops out of Saigon and pull her troops out of the Congo and pull back all her troops everywhere and then we will see that she is a non- violent country, that we’re living in a non-violent society. But until they get non-violent themselves, you’re out of your mind to get non-violent. That’s all I say on that.

I’m for peace, but I don’t see how any black people can be at peace before the war is over, and you haven’t even won a battle yet. If I have to follow a general who is fighting for my freedom and the enemy begins to pin peace medals on him before I’ve gotten my freedom, I’m afraid I’ll have to find another general because its impossible for a general to be at peace when his people don’t get no peace. It is impossible to give out peace medals when the people who are oppressed don’t have any peace.

The only man who has peace is the man at the top. And I don’t think that black people should be at peace in any way; there should be no peace on earth for anybody until there’s peace also for us.

As the African nations began to get very nationalistic, very militant, and very uncompromising in their search for freedom, the European powers found they couldn’t stay on the African continent any longer. It’s like someone in a football game or a basketball game: When he’s trapped or boxed in, he doesn’t throw the ball away, but he has to pass it to someone who’s in the clear. And this is the same thing the Europeans did.

The Africans didn’t want them anymore, so they had to pass the ball to one of their partners who was in the clear and that partner was Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam caught the ball and he’s been carrying it ever since. All you have to do is go to the African continent, travel from one end of it to the other, and you’ll find out that the American position and influence has only replaced the position and influence of the former colonial powers and they did it very skillfully.

They knew that no non-African could stay on that continent against the will of the African, so they had to use a better, more subtle method. They had to make friends with the African. They had to make the African think they were there to help them, so they started pretending like they wanted to help you and me over here. They came up with all these pretty slogans about integration which they haven’t produced yet.

They came up with slogans about this kind of program and that kind of program, but when you analyze it very closely, you find that they haven’t produced it yet. It hasn’t produced what it was supposed to produced. It’s so hard for them to produce results that when they get that much of it, it makes headlines.

The law was handed down by the Supreme Court. They said you could go to any school you want, but when you get out there and get ready to go to a school like the law says, the law is the one busting you upside your head, or turning the water hose on you, or the cattle prod, so this kind of shook the Afro-American up. He wondered whether the Supreme Court was really in a position to say what the law of the land was supposed to be. They passed a law they could not enforce. And I don’t mean they couldn’t enforce it in Mississippi, I mean they couldn’t enforce it in New York City. They couldn’t even desegregate the schools in New York City, so how in the world are they going to enforce it in Louisiana, Mississippi, and some of these other places?

These were token moves, designed to make you and me cool down just a little while longer by making us think that an honest effort was being made to get a solution to the problem. And then as they began to appear as if they were for the black man in this country, abroad they were blown up. Especially the United States Information Service. Its job abroad, especially in the African continent, is to make the Africans think that you and I are living in paradise, that our problems have been solved, that the Supreme Court desegregation decision put all of us in school, that the passage of the Civil Rights Bill last year solved all of our problems, and that now that Martin Luther King, Jr., has gotten the peace prize, we are on our way to the promised land of integration.

I was over there when all of this happened and I know how they used it. They don’t use it in an objective, constructive way; they use it to trick and fool the African into thinking that most of their time is spent in loving you and me and trying to solve your and my problem with honest methods, and that they were getting honest results.

So I would like to say in my conclusion why we in the Organization of Afro-American Unity feel that we just can’t sit around and rely upon the same objectives and strategies that have been used in the past.

If you study the so-called progress of the Afro-American, go back to 1939, just before the war with Hitler, most of our people were dishwashers, waiters, and shoeshine boys. It didn’t make any difference how much education we had. We worked downtown in those hotels as bellhops and on the railroad as waiters and in Grand Central Station as redcaps. Prior to 1939, we knew what our position was going to be even before we graduated from school.

In those days our people couldn’t even work in a factory. In Michigan where all of the factories were, they were primarily shining shoes and working at other menial tasks. Then when Hitler went on a rampage, America was faced with a manpower shortage. This is the only time you and I got a break. Some of you are too young to remember it, and some of you are so old you don’t want to remember it.

They let us in the defense plants, and we began to get jobs as machinists for the first time. We got a little skill, made a little more money. Then we were in a position to live in a little better neighborhood. When we moved to a little better neighborhood, we had a little better school to go to and got a little better education. This is how we came out of it; not through someone’s benevolence and not through the efforts of organizations in our midst. It was the pressure that Uncle Sam was under. The only time that man has let the black man go one step forward has been when outside pressure has been brought to bear upon him. It has never been for any other reason. World pressure, economic pressure, political pressure, military pressure:

When he was under pressure, he let you and me have a break. So the point that I make is that it has never just been on our own initiative that you and I have made any steps forward. And the day that you and 1 recognize this, then we see the thing in its proper perspective because we cease looking just to Uncle Sam and Washington, D.C., to have the problems solved and we cease looking just within America for allies in our struggle against the injustices.

When you find people outside America who look like you getting power, my suggestion is that you tum to them and make them your allies. Let them know that we all have the same problem, that racism is not an internal American problem, but an international problem. Racism is a human problem and a crime that is absolutely so ghastly that a person who is fighting racism is well within his rights to fight against it by any means necessary until it is eliminated.

When you and I can start thinking like that and we get involved in some kind of activity with that kind of liberty, I think we’ll get some ends to some of our problems almost overnight.